During a portion of the sermon this last Sunday, I spent a little bit of time on the problem of lowlife authenticity. After the message I had a good conversation with a good friend over my professed bafflement over what causes the attraction to this lowlife ethos. He made the point that the cause of all this is squeaky clean hypocrisy, a point I have agreed with and made earlier on this blog. When people are washed up nice, clean and pure, neck ties for church, and yet their personal lives are characterized by spiritual grime, this creates a market for those who go off in search of the authentic. All this I granted, and had previously granted. But the conversation took me a few more steps down the road, and brought a few more things together for me — thanks to my friend’s probing.
First, consider how powerful parental hypocrisy is — it is capable of getting people to embrace an incoherent concept, like low-living as authentic. This makes no sense, and so the forces driving people to live this way must be powerful emotional forces.
Second, it highlighted for me why I detest lowlife authenticity so much. I believe all God’s children are called to loathe hypocrisy in all its forms. Whatever we do, we should hate that. My friend asked the question, “Who would you want to talk about football with? The guy with mud stains all over his uniform, or the guy whose uniform was as clean as clean gets?” The answer of course is that I want to talk to the muddy guy — unless he smeared the mud on himself in order to look like a football player with experience. Unless he bought the uniform at a store that specializes in pre-sullied sports wear, so the girls will think he spent some time on the field. That guy is far worse than the clean third-stringer.
When people react to hypocrisy, and the reaction is not driven by zeal for real holiness, but is rather just a reaction, the only result will be more hypocrisy. Not only will it be more hypocrisy, it will be worse hypocrisy. And this is why I hate it so much — it is more hypocrisy in a world that doesn’t need any more. Morever, unlike traditional hypocrisy, this form is largely undetected and unchallenged.
The stereotypical hypocrite pretends to be chaste when he is not chaste. He pretends at church to be the kind of man who is never angry, and yet his family knows that anger drives him. He pretends to be in possession of virtues he in fact is not in possession of. But to react away from buttoned-down hypocrisy to pre-torn and stone-washed jeans is simply to descend into lower forms of hypocrisy. Why is it lower? Because the culture wide signal that is being sent with all these forms is authenticity. We are marketing, and lots of people are buying, authenticity. The one virtue that is being claimed in this ethos is the virtue of authenticity, and no matter how thin you slice it, it is still baloney.
This new vice is peculiarly the domain of evangelicals who are trying (hopelessly) to make their version of the faith relevent. If I met some guy in a laundromat, a long-haul trucker, and he had some tattoos, and he smoked, and he swore, I would not bustle out of there in high indignation lest my pure little evangelical ears hear a bad word or something. I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck; I know what it is like in the world, and have spent a good bit of time there. These people need Christ, and they need someone to present the gospel to them.
But what to make of those sweet little Christian kids who are trying to wear the uniform of lowlife authenticity? It is a pose, a sham, a lie. It is hypocrisy — they have a adopted a false notion that grit constitutes reality, and then they conspire to look gritty while continuing to receive three squares and one hot shower every day. That is not real grease in their hair. They bought that stuff in a tube at Safeway. They do not have authentic ghetto-wear. They slouch around in FUBU droopy-drawers clothes, bought off the rack at some up-scale mall, and it is not For Us By Us for them. They don’t know the first thing about it, and would be terrified to encounter the real thing anywhere.
And this is why we have to be biblical people. We have to hate hypocrisy and sham-living in all its forms. We cannot content ourselves with hating their hypocrisy, those people, there in that other group. Unless we hate all posturing, we not not successfully escape the fate of the poseur. Because the “hypocrisy of the authentic” is posing at the highest levels, claiming the greatest virtue, while possessing none of it, we are called to hate it — and make fun of it. But when we point out what is going on, there is a peculiar kind of anger that comes in response — the anger of an over-inflated Pharisaical balloon in the presence of a Dominical pin.
Woe unto you, dweebs, losers, hypocrites! For you blacken the sepulchure, scatter pumpkins and spider webs around the place, and make it look like a regular Halloween zone, and yet inside you are filled with sentimental thoughts and maudlin self-pity. Stop the lying. The only message that needs to be pressed upon the current crop of authentic poseurs is this: get real.